Heather Suttie

Among the T-shirt-clad rock monsters of Xfm Scotland, Heather Suttie stands out; passionate, engaging, vivacious and friendly and the only chick on the daytime line up. She’s born to chat, to interview, to extract the details from the personalities and the artists who pass through the station. She is a natural.

However, when we turn the microphone on HER, some fascinating facts emerge – her keen interest in science, a plan to turn around the fortunes of Stirling Albion… and we ask her those showbiz questions too – which country diva does she love, which Britpop hellraiser turns out to be a ‘fantastic guy’, and which current act turn out to be ‘twats’? All these questions (apart from the last one on the advice of Xfm Scotland’s lawyers) are answered below…

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“She’s the only one here who dresses up for work,” jokes Dominik Diamond as he shows me through to the studio where Xfm Scotland’s drivetime presenter, Heather Suttie, is waiting for me. And yes, she’s resplendent in a sparkly dress over jeans and boots and immaculately made up, despite suffering, she confesses, from a hangover after a late gig and party from the night before. “I’m a lightweight when it comes to alcohol,” she confides.

Despite the confident exterior that comes across both on air and on TV, being on the receiving end of the microphone is something she’s less used to.

“Some people love talking about themselves,” she says. “Not me, I’m keen to learn about other people and am much more interested in what they have to say!”

Feeling a tad uncomfy she laughs, “It’s always me who does the interviews!”. And while the Xfm webcam may catch the presenters off guard on occasion, Heather’s eye for presentation is more a habit picked up in her previous job.

“I cut my teeth for ITV2 in 1999 doing live interviews with bands like Terrorvision, Travis, Feeder and Sir Paul McCartney,” she recalls. “I’m lucky enough to have done both radio and TV. They’re both hard work and an utter blast and it’s like anything – what you put in you get out,” she continues. “People who are good at what they do make it look easy!”

For Heather, the thrill of live broadcasting is unbeatable. A once in a lifetime experience whilst in Florida filming for a BBC science show saw her competing to become an astronaut and nailing a 15 second piece to camera as Space Shuttle Endeavour launched for the 101st time over her shoulder, a part of history and she was applauded by NBC and CNN crews for nailing one of the trickiest reporting jobs ever.

Back down to earth, Heather is happy with relatively sedentary broadcasting, which still has its moments. “You never know what you’ll get from a guest, I love the unpredictability of it. Some of the best ones have been with small bands.” She cites Goldie Lookin’ Chain, The Dykeenies, Lily Allen, The Rifles and Franz Ferdinand as groups she’s particularly enjoyed talking to of late, Alex and the boys being “professional and generous”.

They’re not all quite as easy to talk to, however.

“Some bands can be twats, but you meet them socially and they’re entirely different,” she reveals. “Of course they may ‘let their music do the talking’, which is fair enough, but in that case, don’t do radio interviews!”

Again, guests who have plenty to say for themselves are the interviewer’s dream, so it’s unsurprising that she’d like to get to grips with Noel Gallagher, who she has met socially.

“He’s a prime example of someone who has a persona for the media – when you get to it over a beer he’s a fantastic, warm and very very funny guy whose interesting and interested, but I suppose that doesn’t sell records or get you headlines, does it?!”

So would an on-form Noel be the dream interview?

“I’m not choosy, I’ll take whomever is on offer! I like chatting to anyone – taxi drivers, barstaff, strangers in a queue. As long as they’re not interviewing me!” she adds, mock-seriously.

But the big-name celebrities, that’s what we want to hear about. “Dolly Parton. I know it’s not cool to say that!” she laughs. “But Dolly’s show in Glasgow was a top gig,” she enthuses. “She was incredible – she sang, told stories, made us laugh, made us cry, she played loads of different instruments, she’s an all-round performer.”

“Ralph Lawson’s 20-20 sound system is one I’ve not had it off my iPod. I like Soulwax Too Many DJs, McSleazy, The Rapture, The Guillemots… I could go on.

“I like the stuff we play, it’s very rare we have anything on the playlist I don’t love or really like.”

It seems like Xfm would be her dream station. “I miss a bit of country and disco though!” Her tastes seem to veer between extremes.

“I like either hi-nrg stuff that’s going to make me feel good, or stuff that’s really chilled. Nothing in the middle.”

Heather has already quizzed me on my favourite books and my holiday – there must be something of the workaholic in her. Does she ever switch off?

“I don’t really see this as a job – I love doing this! Anyway, I’ll play table tennis, walk my dog… I live for holidays, hence the tan, I’m just back from Italy. And stuff like buying music, reading, DJing, parties, seeing my pals… and movies,” she remembers. She’s about to start learning poker and is seriously considering starting a band called The P.M.s so that she can play on the same bill as the guys from the Dominik Diamond Breakfast Show.

She even manages to combine two of her favourite things ; interviewing and table tennis, which she’s put to good use with Keanu Reeves and Billy Boyd.

And she seems to devour magazines and pop culture. “I can do 3 or 4 movies a week either on DVD or at the cinema. Recently Lucky Number Slevin, Amelie, Deuce Bigalow, Walk The Line, The Constant Gardener, and Thankyou For Smoking have all figured somewhere”

So, it seems Heather’s pretty much in her dream job, so what else is there left? What boxes are unchecked?

“I always wanted to do medicine but never got the grades at school, but I’m also rubbish with needles, and blood makes me keel over!” she laughs. However, there are – it seems – a couple of ambitions left.

“Number one: is managing a band. And make a TV music show about travelling, a bit like ‘Holiday’ with a band.” Which would bear further discussion if it wasn’t for the other dream job. “Number 2 is managing a football team.”

I did state ‘dream job’ but Heather is serious. “Alex McLeish told me I’d not have a hope in hell and that made me 10 times more determined to do it!”

In these days of ‘director of football’ and ‘coach’ I’m not exactly sure what the name for Heather’s post is, but it’s less about tactics and more the psychology of winning. “The team talk at half time – Mourinho and Ferguson have the skill to talk people round… [when Liverpool played Roma and came back from 3-0 down to win]… what did Gerard Houllier say in that dressing room?”

Her love of football has been indulged of late with the World Cup. Nicknamed ‘The Blonde Nostradamus of the World Cup’ she forecast the last six winners not including her prediction on Italy lifting the trophy. “Maybe I should take up gambling!?” she jokes.

Heather Suttie presents Drivetime on Xfm Scotland – weekdays, from 4 – 7pm.

Clockwise: Heather with Willy Mason, Calvin Harris, Paolo Nutini, and Biffy Clyro

Clockwise: Heather with Willy Mason, Calvin Harris, Paolo Nutini, and Biffy Clyro

2020: Heather is now a freelance producer, creating content, video and podcasts, as well as a keen environmentalist. She’s still glamourous and still loves vintage clothing – find her on Instagram at @onetaketelly.

Paul N’jie

You can judge a person by the company they keep, so the saying goes – so what do we make of Xfm Scotland’s urban expert Paul N’Jie , whose little black book reads like the guestlist from the Mobos…

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The first thing that strikes you about Paul N’Jie, Xfm Scotland’s urban music specialist, is the enormous smile on his face. Which is inevitable as it turns out as he’s doing something he loves. “I’m happy with I’ve achieved, but hope that there’s more to come, including promoting and interviewing some real upcoming stars,” he offers as a summary of sorts.

More of that later, but as ever, we go back to our subject’s childhood… and for Paul, like most it’s inevitably shaped by his parents, and other family. “Bob Marley, Steel Pulse, Marvin Gaye, Kool & the Gang, Earth Wind and Fire…” is his enthusiastic list. “And jazz – Ella Fitzgerald… so, all the genres, but under the black umbrella, from disco to jazz to soul to reggae.”

And all sounds that can be heard in Paul’s Xfm Scotland show to an extent – but, perhaps currently rap music is the most prominent urban music style, and one you’re likely to hear on a Friday night. “My first rap record was (the Sugarhill Gang’s) ‘Rappers Delight’, and wow, all these guys up on stage rapping… so that was the one that got me into that! It’d have been my first year at secondary school, that’s when I fell in love with black music.”

A lot has happened since then, with rap and indeed all black music genres becoming more prominent, eventually getting to a level where Scotland was ‘ready’ for its first ever urban music radio show. “January 23rd, that date is ingrained in my mind,” he jokes. “It was a breathtaking dream come true,” he says of that time when months of demoing finally persuaded the bosses at 4 Winds Pavilion.

And that fateful day is far removed the from old days – when Paul was still at school and Glasgow’s Venue (now G2) was the only club playing black music.

“My brother used to DJ in the club,” he reveals, recalling that “in the mid 80s there was a big soul funk and jazz movement.” The family connection wasn’t enough for him to just step into the slot when his brother left, though he’d been picking up DJing skills along the way. And with one of those strokes of good fortune (well, for Paul anyway), the main DJ broke his arm and Paul was pitched in – for an 8-hour stint on Xmas eve! “It was unbelievable,” he remembers, “it was the adrenalin that kept me going!”

Despite the popularity of urban music that Paul was seeing up close when DJing and promoting, these really were the dark days – “no-one really wanted to know in clubs or radio, but I was hearing urban music coming out of bars, even restaurants, but no-one wanted to go for it.” Why? His answer is emphatic. “I heard comments at the time, like ‘there’s not enough black people in Scotland’ – but music’s for everyone, no matter what race or colour.”

An attitude that’s been borne out. “I think the catalyst for that was Eminem, he sold rap music into trailer parks which opened the door for 50 Cent, and Ja Rule.” So Paul N’Jie, Xfm, and Scotland have Eminem to thank for the seachange in urban music? “I’m not personally a big fan personally,” he admits, “but he’s done a couple of great albums and pushed it open worldwide – and yes, it’s great that he’s kept me in work!”

As someone once said, the children are the future, something that the Urban X presenter recognises, and apart from his considerable experience doing more regular clubs – including residencies at Trash, Tunnel, Blanket, and hosting 5 MTV parties – he went for a slightly different audience in launching Glasgow’s first urban under-18s night. “Again, the manager said ‘Kids don’t want to hear that’ but luckily I’d done my research!” He was able to pull another family connection out of the bag. “I’ve got nephews who were young and I asked one  ‘would this work?’ and he said ‘Yeah!’”

It became obvious that black-oriented music was expanding, across the board. “I remember going into my local HMV in Sauchiehall St. – you could see the rap and R&B sections getting bigger and bigger, and there was a guy who was under 18 looking in the rap section, and I asked him how a hip-hop U18s night do. And he said ‘that’d be amazing’.”

So, somehow Paul managed to convince the Carling Academy that the nights would work. “Don’t get me wrong, it was hard, but it kicked off big time, we took 1500 kids to the Academy.”

But when school’s out, what does Paul N’Jie do in his spare time? The answer is, perhaps, inevitable: “Listening to music! I love buying music, and chilling out, relaxing…”
So, does urban-style music do the job at home as well as at work?

“I’m open-minded,” he says. “I can see a pop record is good for what it is – ok, it might not be what I’m into, but a hit’s a hit!”

The other extra-curricular activities aren’t too sedentary – swimming, buying clothes, holidays, eating out, and only “sometimes” living off M&S dinners. And anyway, the balance is restored by playing 5-a-sides – “you may have heard me heard me getting slagged on-air by Dominic!” he laughs. And watching football – though he refuses to reveal what team he supports (clue: he is from Maryhill…)

Finding time to fit in extra-curricular activities isn’t easy, but perhaps a bit easier than the old days of 8-hour stints on the decks in clubs. “The licensing laws have changed,” he explains, “these days it’s usually 3 hours max – someone warms up for you, you do your thing, then someone finishes off.”

Of course, it’s often a DJ’s job to warm up for an established performer, and Paul’s got a few big names on the list he’s worked with – from Wyclef Jean to Outkast, from D12 to Missy Elliot. And not all rappers by any means – Alicia Keys and Pussycat Dolls are also in the N’Jie address book, but as far as interviews goes, 50 Cent is his favourite.

“He’s such a big, big star,” Paul remembers, “and when the interview went out you could just tell – it was so surreal, there was this feeling that everybody was listening. I said to my producer, ‘the texts have gone dead’ and he said ‘that’s because people are listening’. All you read about him is rubbish, that guys is so professional.”

This does seem to be a ‘talent’ which some artists have, and some don’t. “The American artists know how to work it – I’m not saying UK and Scots ones don’t but these guys have doing it since time began – you can go back to the jazz days in the 40s. There was Jamie Fox too,” he remembers, “throwing in impersonations of Ray.”

Ah, yes, Ray Charles. Black music, but perhaps not one for the N’Jie show?

“No…” he pauses. “Well, if it’s someone from back in the day I respect or admire – we’ll play Marvin Gaye, Luther VD passed away and we played a few tracks, there was Bob Marley’s anniversary – so if it’s appropriate, yes. Take James Brown, he’ll appeal to anyone, even a young audience.”

Further digging reveals some more unusual choices in the N’Jie record box. “For me Stevie Wonder is the best songwriter in the world – if you play ‘Answer Me’ that’ll melt my great and put a smile on my face – if it wasn’t for Stevie Wonder the artists you’re hearing today wouldn’t be here – we played a couple of tracks from his last album, and got a text saying wow, that’s amazing, and it ended ’I am 16’.”

Roberta Flack is another one from the archive – “what a vocalist!” – and Paul reckons there’s a place for a show covering 60s and 70s soul and disco – though perhaps not on Xfm Scotland.

“Maybe Saga,” he laughs – “in 20 years time!”

For now, for the best of more modern sounds – hear Urban X on Fridays from 01.00- 03.00.

McSleazy

A change of address, impossible to meet in person thanks to weekend trips to the USA and Europe, that mysterious pseudonym – is McSleazy just a really busy guy… or are the copyright police on his tail???

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The hazards of trying to conduct an interview over the phone. Not that I had much option, since McSleazy, if he’s not recording or moving house, is hard to track down, and as likely to be DJing in San Francisco as his native Glasgow.

Though perhaps it’s as well the tape machine’s batteries run out, as the first attempt at our conversation dishes some light-hearted dirt on some of the indie popsters McSleazy has encountered during his years in the local indie scene. Thus, we’re unable to reveal who was christened the Mrs Mopp of indie rock.

Though the DJ and presentter has much bigger names to drop into our conversation. But that’s for later. After all, where better to start than his infamous monicker.

Inevitably perhaps, the answer is that it’s taken from the Glasgow bar of the same name where McSleazy – Grant to his friends – once worked. “I never really left,” he jokes, “only now I don’t get paid for being there, I give them my money!”

Xfm listeners are more familiar with McSleazy the DJ, or remixer/bootlegger, but the name was dreamt up for an email address on the spur of the moment, and which eventually became a name for a live act, bootlegger and remixer, and of course, Xfm DJ.

But we’ve got ahead of ourselves a little. Grant’s first exposure to music was via his grandfather, who played organ in the church – “my first taste of electro,” he laughs.

His parents were both music fans – his father who worked in mountain rescue was perhaps inevitably into folk music, as well as having a penchant for Queen, while his mother liked only Abba and musicals.

His parents sent him for piano lessons at an early age, but he soon decided that guitar music was the way forward (albeit temporarily) as he developed a taste for Adam and the Ants. “I remember listening to the charts with my dad’s big headphones, and recording them – which was where my copyright infringement stared!”

The mix of influences being stacked up for future reference got more eclectic – his teenage years saw a liking for Guns’n’Roses contrast with winning tickets to see Michael Jackson at Wembley. Which would have seemed odd for a goth, and odder to his goth mates.

“And I never had a taste for cider either…” And he was living in Bridge of Weir… “People nowadays complain about music downloads, but if I wanted to get a tune I’d have to get a bus for 50 mins – to Paisley as well! A three hour round trip, today it’d take less than a minute!”

Yes, young people today do have it too easy – and Grant has worked hard to get where he is – from Ding at the local Paisley Union, and working for Radio Scotland; producing interviews with the likes of Ruthless Rap Assassins, Slowdive, and Kermit, before his time in Black Grape. “I’d edit on 1/4” tape with drop-ins and edits,” he remembers of the technically difficult days before Cubase and other software. So, he threw himself into mastering his first computer – an Atari, of course, hooked up to a Roland D10 keyboard. “I learnt my powerchords on the guitar then borrowed a mate’s 4-track and recorded a few songs.”

Which, with the help of a few mates, became a fully-fledged band who released a single.

This contrasted with another radio job, again interviewing bands. “We were getting load of local bands in to do interviews – mostly from Elliot Davis’ wee stable which was really Wet Wet Wet and a load of Glasgow soul types.” He pauses. “And then a band came in who were right up my street, synthkids with guitars who mentioned Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails – and Adam and the Ants.” Grant ended up running the T-shirt stall for saidFlorence when they signed to Sony.

Though again we’re ahead of ourselves, there was a few months at college. “Computing and maths were a breeze, but physics… I couldn’t get my head round the difference between a watt and an ohm. So I got a job at Tate and Lyle measuring the size of crushed cattle bones.” This was less a true vocation and more a means to an end, generating money to get the band on the road, though that was short-lived too – Grant ending up in a short-lived pop band called Ricky. “We were at the premiere for Rob Roy – that’s how bad it was!” he snorts.

Disillusioned with the band life, he got a sampler. “And that’s where the it al started!” he laughs, triumphantly. In those pre-Xfm days Radio Scotland was again the place, this time their weekly electronica show playing the tunes.

Of course, a name for the ‘project’ was required; and that’s where McSleazy was born, as Grant sat in an internet cafe trying to find a hotmail email address that wasn’t taken.

Perhaps that was all it took for things to snowball – an AC Acoustics remix, then one for Deckard (who eventually transformed into Union of Knives), support slots with bis, Jimi Tenor, closing T in the Park, and then, the infamous McSleazy Allstars gig, which “could only really have happened in Glasgow!”

The concept – send a whole bunch of tunes to different people, who would then write lyrics around it. Chris from Deckard, Steven from bis and saidflorence’s singer Kit Cummins all contributed, as did Eugene Kelly, albeit fleetingly. “I didn’t hear Eugene’s lyrics until he sang it onstage – I was terrified!” Grant confesses. “Talk about the thrill of playing live, that was taking it a step too far!”

The live experience is one Grant does less often nowadays – not just because of the terror of the live performance. “DJing and remixing was more convenient, it’s easier to work in a studio, and doing gigs basically costs you money – and I had a wee boy as well so family and life takes over,” he says. So, he’s studio-bound at present – particularly as he’s just moved house and transported the whole kit and caboodle to its new home, which must have caused panic among his new neighbours.

“Four guitars, an electronic drum kit, keyboards…” – that and what he calls his “supercomputer” which has been the main part of the McSleazy brand for the past five years, all thanks to his remixing and bootlegging. Yes, it’s five years since www.getyourbootlegon.com – named after perhaps his most famous mix, of Missy Elliot – went live.

Since then the site has grown to over 10,000 members – many casual and curious visitors, but a remarkable amount taking their first steps into the world of remixing. “Just about everyone has a shot, it’s all about coaxing lurkers or people who post comments on other people’s bootleg – they’ll say ‘I don’t know a awful lot about music but I like this, it does this for me,’and they’ll be more confident… or if they say ‘it’s out of tune’ or ‘its too clashy,’ someone’ll say ‘so why don’t you do it yourself?’ – and they will.”

Of course, not everyone that visits posts remixes, and many who do prefer to remain anonymous. But, it became obvious that there were a few famous faces checking it out. Most significantly, “a chap called Howie from MTV” decided to do a mash-up TV show, so where better to get the music? “We did the bootlegs, they made the videos, and it got broadcast right across Europe,”Grant remembers. “I ended DJing all over the continent, one weekend I was London, Zurich, Berlin, and then went into work on Monday.”

The dayjob had to go. “I lived off MTV and the DJing,” he states, though fortunately other income came his way via unexpected sources – a few hundred quid in royalties for a tune lifted from the website and used on repeat as backing for early-morning Teletext pages on regional TV in England’s north east was one of the more unlikely places… and gigs at Bastard in London, a word-of-mouth and thus rather credible bootleg club.

Well, semi-credible perhaps, a mashup of Foo Fighters and, er, Westlife, getting great, if slightly embarrassed reactions from some of the regulars. Inevitably it ended up online, but unexpectedly Q’s cable channel set it to video, and soon it was #3 in their request chart.

Which is how Westlife became fans of the tune, and BMG commissioned Grant to remix the Irish band’s labelmate Britney Spears. Though even such impressive virtual shoulder-rubbing pales into insignificance however when you learn that Grant is – we assume – the only Scotsman to have co-written a tune with Irving Berlin and Dr Dre.

“There was a movie with Antonio Bandreas, Take The Lead… in one scene a kid’s DJing hiphop, mixing tunes; Antonio’s intrigued by his mixing 2 tunes, and says ‘maybe you could do it with mine as well…’ and suddenly there’s this tune knocked together.” Legal wrangles meant the clearance for Tone Loc’s ‘Wild Thing’ took 8 months, and then Grant received the news he dreaded. “The phone call is always at midnight and always ‘Hold everything you’ve working on!’ and after six months it was “We lost ‘Wild Thing’’.. so I said ‘How about I just do the drumbeats myself?’… but what’d not occurred to me was that because I chipped in, there was a co-write credit.”

After that, there boots came thick and fast – a Franz/Beastie Boys mash-up which was the first to be playlisted in the USA, while Savage Garden’s Darren Hayes actually changing his version of ‘Insatiable’ to fit around the ‘Tainted Love’ mix, while a Charlatans mash got him support on a two-week tour. Does Grant not get embarrassed at the praise which he gets from artists he’s worked on?

“All I’ve done is batter something together and take the credit for it!” he laughingly admits. ” Though remixing is different,” he points out. “You get a lot more ideas working with someone else’s vocals – I did a lot with Kelis; her vocals are really interesting”.

And it’s the vocals which make up the criteria for his wish-list.

“People with interesting voices – Jack White, James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem… David Bowie, he’s always been ahead of the game.” Indeed, Bowie is known to be a visitor to the site.

It’s such a cross-pollination of ideas, such strange bedfellows which makes the website such a success – and such a rich source of material for the Xfm show. Given his own varied musical tastes, this can be something to savour. “Rock vs rock (mixes) can work, but it’s the out-of-context ones I love; you hear a riff you’ve heard 100 times and suddenly a new vocal comes over the top or a new tune comes in…”

“Tunes you know in ways you’ve never heard them before” is the tagline which Grant proudly states. “We try to catch the casual listener as they flick from one station to another and if you can catch someone’s curiousity for a couple of seconds – if they flick over and hear a bootleg – a backing track they know with something different over the top of it – whether they know it or not their brain’s going to snag onto the fact there’s something different there.”

Indeed, McSleazy and crew are the Andy Warhols of Xfm. “If you show someone six identical pictures but one’s got a moustache drawn on it then they’ll notice there’s something different; our show is just just loads of moustaches drawn on pictures!” The show of course plays only the pick, though with novices on the website not every track is perfect. “Some are awful, there’s loads of bootlegs and some are out of tune … but every now and then…”

With around 25 tunes being uploaded every day there’s enough to mean the bootleg section of the show being extended to 40 minutes. As Grant says: “40 minutes of the unexpected.”

And two full hours of surprises – McSleazy is on Xfm Scotland, on Saturday nights from 01:00 to 03:00

(This piece was originally commissioned for the XFM Scotland website, sometime around 2007…)

2020 update: McSleazy is no longer on the airwaves, but is still making electronica and modern orchestral soundtracks – see www.grantjrobson.com. You can also read his own Xfm memories.

Too much time on my hands?

Featured

Furlough will be a distressing experience for many, but I’m personally using the unexpected time to catch up on some stuff I’ve got behind on. Including uploading some old articles and interviews that never quite made it online at the time.

In the case of the interview series with Xfm presenters, these were completed shortly before the station went off-air in, what, 2006? Most have never been seen in public, until now…